Against Me! are one of those bands who’ve always made music on their own terms and filled it with the charismatic bite and soul that makes it appealing to audiences the world over. They’re also one of the few bands who continue to surprise, excel and inspire with each new entry into their discography. Following an album as brilliant as White Crosses makes achieving each of those again all the more difficult, and although Transgender Dysphoria Blues may not be an instant classic it sees the band try something new and pull it off in fine fashion.
As expected, the main area in which the band’s sixth studio album differs is its lyrical content. 2013’s two track acoustic EP True Trans wasted no time in introducing the band to the new lyrical stylings of Laura Jane Grace, and Transgender Dysphoria Blues once again dives straight in, with the chorus line ‘You want them to see you like every other girl / they just see a faggot / they hold their breath not to catch the sick‘ on the opening title track. As a whole the album is starkly honest and raw, providing an insight into Grace’s own reflections on her gender transition (occasionally through the eyes of someone else), making for an album that is hard hitting in a way that very few albums have ever been, considering so few – if any – cover the topic. Credit has to be given to the band for choosing this route to go down, and if anything it only further cements their place as one of the most influential and forward thinking artists of their time.
Lyrical content aside, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a varied bag, ranging from sentimental acoustic tracks (‘Two Coffins’) to rollicking short and snappy tracks like ‘Drinking With The Jocks’, which is more ‘Rice And Bread’ than ‘Rapid Decompression’. The oddly named ‘Osama Bin Laden The Crucified Christ’ is undoubtedly one of the heaviest tracks the band have done from an instrumental perspective, sounding like a musical bar fight, with Grace singing ‘You’re gonna hang like the cross around my neck / you’re gonna hang’ above pounding drums and exhilarating guitar riffs. It seems a little repetitive, as does the toe-tapping ‘Unconditional Love’, but neither outstay their welcome and the aggression of the former is excellently captured. Ninth and best track ‘Paralytic States’ offers a touching story about a troubled transgender prostitute, which we assume hits home with Grace, especially through the lines ‘Our waking life’s just a living dream… Never quite the woman that she wanted to be’ and ‘she spent the last years of her life running from the boy she used to be.’ From a storytelling perspective Against Me! have rarely sounded better, and ‘Paralytic States’ is one of the records crowning achievements, detracting from weaker tracks like the aforementioned ‘Unconditional Love’. Following it with the emphatic ‘Black Me Out’ caps off the album in fine form, with Against Me! once again at their ballsy best, and the final track serves up a huge middle finger in the form of lines like ‘Black me out / I want to piss on the walls of your house / I want to chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers’ yelled out over building instrumentals.
At just under 29 minutes Transgender Dysphoria Blues marks the bands shortest album since The Eternal Cowboy, and in this sense it does seem to end a little prematurely at only ten tracks long. It’s a small criticism of an otherwise stellar album, but as a listener you can’t help but wish it reached the lengths that White Crosses did.
Seventh track ‘Dead Friend’ is as blunt as its title suggests, opening with the line ‘You don’t worry about tomorrow anymore, ‘cos you’re dead’. It still manages to be a reflective track regardless of it being an up-tempo one, and Grace’s vocals on this track in particular are excellent. Following track ‘Two Coffins’ dials it down a notch, with Grace’s echoing vocals spinning a moving track about growing old together. The full band versions of ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ and ‘FUCKMYLIFE666’ are solid, with the latter bettering it’s acoustic version. I preferred the acoustic version of ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’, with the instrumentals seeming a little washed out on the studio version bar the final minute.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an album that manages to capture classic Against Me! and pair it with hard hitting lyrics, making for an adventurous album that comes out sounding golden. It marks another success in the bands discography, as well as silencing any critics who expected Against Me! to lose some of their bite, because at its best Transgender Dysphoria Blues sinks it’s teeth at every opportunity. Its mellower moments are sentimental and affecting; whilst it’s heavier moments are contagiously rousing. It might not reach the same heights as White Crosses but it will still go down as one of the year’s most compelling listens.
Rating – 8/10
Listen to: Transgender Dysphoria Blues / Osama Bin Laden The Crucified Christ / Black Me Out